Indonesia removed as host of U-20 FIFA World Cup over Israel objections


(JTA) — Indonesia has been stripped of its hosting rights for the upcoming FIFA Under-20 Men’s World Cup, after the country objected to Israel’s participation.

FIFA, soccer’s global governing body, announced the decision Wednesday, saying Indonesia was removed as host “due to the current circumstances,” without providing further clarification. The Football Association of Indonesia may also face further penalties.

The tournament is set to begin May 20, with 24 teams from around the world participating. Israel had qualified for the first time after reaching the semifinals in the Under-19 European Championship.

The draw for the U-20 tournament, originally scheduled to take place Friday in Bali, was canceled after Bali also objected to Israel’s presence in the tournament.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said his country had agreed to host before knowing Israel would be playing. Dozens protested Israel’s inclusion in Indonesia’s capital on Monday.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, does not have diplomatic relations with Israel and supports the Palestinian cause.

Israel’s participation “has nothing to do with the consistency of our foreign-policy position toward Palestine, because our support for Palestine has always been solid and strong,” Widodo said on Tuesday, according to The New York Times. He also said that people should “not mix sports and politics.”

This is not the first time Indonesia’s opposition to Israel has impacted global soccer events.

Indonesia, along with Turkey and Sudan, dropped out of qualifiers for the 1958 World Cup to avoid playing against Israel — letting Israel win the Africa and Asia group qualifiers without playing a game. In 1962, Israel withdrew from the Asian Games after Indonesia, then the host country, refused to issue visas to Israeli players.

According to the Associated Press, the Palestinian ambassador to Indonesia had no objection to Israel’s participation, and some Indonesians disagreed with their country’s decision.

“The rejection of the Israeli national team by some people in Indonesia, including a number of regional heads and politicians is regrettable,” said Hikmahanto Juwana, a professor of international law at the University of Indonesia. “As long as Indonesia has declared itself willing to be the host, Indonesia must take the risk not to reject any members from international event organizers.”

This episode comes only days after an international rugby tournament in South Africa disinvited an Israeli team.

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